Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Housing Complex Accused of Bias Justice Dept. Used Testers to Check for Discrimination

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Housing Complex Accused of Bias Justice Dept. Used Testers to Check for Discrimination

Article excerpt

An unusual Department of Justice lawsuit accusing the owner and manager of a Baldwin Borough apartment complex of racial discrimination brings to the federal court an issue that usually remains below the housing market's surface.

Federal attorneys late Monday sued S-2 Properties Inc., owner of the 100-apartment Baldwin Commons, and manager Bill Turzai. The complaint alleged that whites were encouraged to move into the complex, pronto, while blacks were told they would be placed on a waiting list.

Attorney John Corcoran, who represents S-2 Properties, called the claim "absolutely meritless."

Others said that the only thing striking about the allegation is that it made it to federal court.

"We call it discrimination with a smile and a handshake," said Jay Dworin, executive director of the Fair Housing Partnership of Greater Pittsburgh, which was not involved in the case. "That's what we see here in Pittsburgh. ... Most of the time, this stuff is settled administratively prior to it ever reaching the Department of Justice."

The department's housing and civil enforcement section, which is based in Washington, D.C., and is handling the case against S-2 Properties, employs "testers" who pretend to be looking for apartments in order to check for discrimination.

On Feb. 19, Baldwin Commons offered a white tester a two-bedroom townhome, federal attorneys wrote. On the following day, a black tester was told that the complex was "fully occupied."

Hours later, another white male tester visited. "Mr. Turzai told the white male tester that a unit was available to rent immediately and that he should 'snag it,' " according to the complaint.

Similar tests conducted in March and April produced similar results, with white testers told that an apartment was "ready to go," while black males were told they could be put on a waiting list, the attorneys wrote. …

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